A recent Sunday provided a stark demonstration of the two competing ways we can discover our calling, our dreams and our identity.
That morning, I talked with a small group of college students about Jeremiah 1 and the calling the prophet receives on his life. That afternoon, I went with my wife to watch La La Land and see the dreams two artists discover for themselves.
The juxtaposition could have been stronger. Jeremiah’s calling is external to him. God gives the prophet his words and his task. In La La Land, Mia and Sebastian find their purpose within themselves and with each other.
Dreams from La La Land
That’s not to say the Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone film is unworthy of the record tying 14 Oscar nominations. La La Land is a fantastic film with almost distractingly beautiful and creative cinematography and memorable, catchy songs.
In a time when millions of voters were swept up in a nostalgic vision of a previously great America, La La Land is the same for people who love old Hollywood with the glitz, glamour and musical numbers.
As Alissa Wilkinson wrote, “The movie is as much a love letter to a mythical Los Angeles as anything else.” The slogan could be “Make Hollywood Great Again.”
The original songs so invoke nostalgia that as I caught myself singing them for the next week, I was surprised to see them nominated for a Best Original Song Academy Award. That just felt like they had been around for years.
In drawing off the nostalgia, the film rightly critiques modern culture’s obsession with the new and shiny. Speaking of that attitude, Sebastian tells Mia, “They worship everything and they value nothing.”
There are not many films, especially not big budget romances, that allow their characters such depth.
Thankfully it also allows the characters to be deeper than their romantic relationship. Mia and Sebastian are more than simply Mia and Sebastian. Though they are interconnected, they are also independent.
At Christianity Today, Alicia Cohn writes:
Hollywood’s depiction of love typically idolizes romantic relationships, either overlooking the pull of unique dreams and callings or quickly resolving them in unrealistic ways. La La Land is that much more unique as it makes the case that dreams are more important than relationships. It allows these two individuals to affirm each other in their unique callings, which they are mature enough to realize they cannot share. The ending is all the more devastating because it has such a relatable message: We cannot have it all. Sometimes we have to choose, and face the consequences.
While La La Land goes deeper than most, unfortunately that is still just under the surface. Mia and Sebastian attempt to find meaning, purpose, calling and fulfillment of dreams within themselves.
Dreams from Bible land
If I want to explore ocean depths, I cannot be content to dive into a swimming pool. Yet we do the same when we limit the pursuit of our calling and purpose to merely looking inside ourselves.
That is merely another way of self-aggrandizement. I pretend as if I am deep enough to contain all that I am looking for.
If I truly want to dive deep into meaning and purpose, I have to go beyond myself into something or Someone who contains much more depth. Jeremiah learns this in the first chapter of biblical book.
God explains to that Jeremiah’s calling and purpose is to be a prophet and it has been that way since before he was born. Jeremiah, looking only internally, gives excuses for why he can’t pursue that calling.
In La La Land, this would be where Jeremiah’s quest would end or he would be faced with a decision about which version of himself he should listen to—the one who says he can or the one who says he can’t.
But God doesn’t tell Jeremiah to “ignore the haters” or “chase after your dreams even harder.” God explains that Jeremiah’s calling is found in God Himself.
God gives Jeremiah his purpose and the strength to accomplish it.
As with every good story, Mia and Sebastian encounter difficulties that make their dreams seem impossible to accomplish. But I can assure you, that was nothing compared to Jeremiah.
Virtually everyone in his country hated him. The king attempted to destroy the prophet’s words by cutting them up and throwing them into a fire. He was beaten and had his life threatened repeatedly.
He saw no significant response to his words, except their destructive fulfillment. He was right about the coming destruction, but he still wept over it happening.
If Jeremiah had simply placed the anchor of his calling and purpose inside himself, it would not have been deep enough. He would have been tossed and torn by the waves crashing around his life.
But his anchor was deep into the words God had spoken to him. That is where he found his purpose.
La La Land is an excellent movie that goes further than most in its handling of dreams and purpose in life. But to find the needed depth to pursue those things, we have to look outside of ourselves.
Otherwise, we will simply be one of the fools who dream as Mia sings about in her audition. Dreams are only foolish if they attempt to find their foundation in ourselves.